Letter and Memorandum from The Muslim
Thank you for inviting me to make this submission
to the Select Committee.
We welcome the initiative taken by the House
of Lords to look into a long overdue law on Religious Offences.
The Muslim News has published many reports
about discrimination against Muslims in schools, work places,
sports and other areas. In many cases, the victims were not able
to get redress as religious discrimination is legal in England,
Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland (where religious discrimination
legislation only applies in employment). There is an urgent need
for comprehensive legislation on religious discrimination and
incitement to religious hatred, like the Race Relations (Amendment)
Act. However, as you are calling for evidence on two issues, namely,
blasphemy and incitement to religious hatred, I will restrict
my submission to those only.
Should existing religious offences (notably blasphemy)
be amended or abolished?
The Blasphemy Law provides protection to the
Anglican religion. This was highlighted when the case to ban the
Satanic Verses under the Blasphemy Law was defeated in
the High Court. The Muslim community then began to look seriously
at alternative legislation to protect non-Anglican religions.
We are not against the existing Blasphemy Law which protects the
Anglican faith, as Muslims believe in and revere other prophets,
including the Biblical prophets. Even if the Law protected all
religions except Islam, we would still support it, as we believe
that all religions need that protection. So I don't believe that
the Blasphemy Law should be abolished. However, we would like
to see another law that criminalizes vilification of any religious
belief. I am not saying that the legislation should outlaw criticism
of religious belief. It should protect religions from scurrility,
vilification, ridicule and contempt.
Should a new criminal offence of incitement to
religious hatred be created and, if so, how should the offence
Muslims do not enjoy the same protection against
hate crime as rightly enjoyed by other minorities and faith communities
like the Jews and Sikhs. It has been shown that hate attacks against
Muslims increase during national and international events concerning
Muslims. For example hate crimes against Muslims increased during
the Satanic Verses crisis in 1988-89, during the Gulf War
against Iraq in 1990-91 and more recently in the wake of September
Many, including the Commission for Racial Equality
(CRE), Runnymede Trust's Islamophobia Report, Metropolitan
Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens, Metropolitan Assistant Commissioner
and Head of Specialist Operations David Veness, and the Government
have acknowledged the need for a legislation to outlaw incitement
to religious hatred.
The CRE recommended in its Second Review of
the Race Relations Act 1976 the need for outlawing religious discrimination
and outlawing of incitement to religious hatred.
Islamophobia Report (1997) recommended
outlawing of religious discrimination and incitement to religious
Sir John Stevens, speaking to the Muslim community
at the London's Central Mosque on 15 October 2001, said there
was a need for the legislation to outlaw incitement to religious
hatred. He said then that the Police had sent several hate mails
to the Crown Prosecution Services to see if prosecutions can be
brought against the culprits but was not confident that they would
be prosecuted as the hate mails were religious in nature. "We
can't do much but test the system to the limits," he said.
(The Muslim News, 26 October 2001, p6).
David Veness during a meeting with British Arab
Muslims living in London in 2 February 2002, said that the reason
why the right wing BNP were getting away with inciting hatred
against the Muslims increasingly since September 11, is because
"they are careful not to cross the legal boundaries"
and acknowledged the need for outlawing incitement to religious
hatred: "Yes, there is a need for incitement to religious
hatred legislation." (The Muslim News, 22 February,
Last October the Home Secretary included in
the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001, a law to criminalise
incitement to religious hatred. However, the Government dropped
the law on incitement to religious hatred in return for an easy
passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill through the Parliament.
The legislation on incitement to religious hatred
should be included in the relevant places in the Public Order
Act 1986 and Section 24(2) of the Police and Criminal Evidence
Act 1984. However, there needs to be safeguards as suggested by
the Muslim Lawyers' Committee and others in the Muslim community:
"Clear criteria for prosecution which is
reviewed, agreed and monitored by a commission made up of independent
individuals representing faith communities in the UK. Publication
by the Attorney General in an annual report of all cases referred
to him (since he has to give consent to prosecutions) giving details
of ethnicity, religion, sex and age with brief facts of the case.
A statutory duty by the faith commission to report on whether
prosecutions for religious incitement reveal any bias on grounds
of race or religion." (The Muslim News, 30 November,
The Muslim News has built up and documented
religiously motivated crimes against Muslims since the Gulf War.
A dossier of such crimes in the wake of the September 11 atrocity
is attached herewith.
8 August 2002